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National Treasure 117

Iron Seated Vairocana Buddha of Borimsa Temple, Jangheung
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Classification National Treasure 117
Name of Cultural Properties Iron Seated Vairocana Buddha of Borimsa Temple, Jangheung
Quantity 1 Item
Designated Date 1963.02.21
Age King Heonan of Unified Silla Period
Address Jeollanam-do Jangheung-gun
Enshrined at Daejeokgwangjeon Hall of Borimsa Temple in Yuchi-myeon, Jangheung-gun, Jeollanam-do, this iron cast Buddha statue has an inscription stating that it was produced in 858 in Unified Silla during the reign of King Heonan.

The statue has lost its original pedestal and mandorla (Buddhist halo of light) but has a clear record of its background, i.e., it was commissioned by a local government official named Kim Su-jong who served the administration of Muju and Jangsa (today’s Gwangju and Jangheung).

The Buddha features an oval, plump face with high-ridged, sharp nose and firmly sealed mouth as well as conch-shaped curls covering the head, which, together, help create a dignified look.

Some, however, have the general impression that it is a somewhat conventional, rather than original, work.

Comparing the Buddha statues of Unified Silla in the 8th century, this iron statue lacks dynamism and intensity in its details.

The robe is draped from both shoulders to create several symbolic U-folds in the front and more over the arms and knees, but their rendition lacks resilience.

Art historians agree that the statue provides a fine example of an artistic tendency of Silla in the 9th century when its Buddhist statues began to lose their early vitality and started to be stylized.

The Buddha’s symbolic hand gesture -- the right hand holding the left index finger -- suggests that he is Vairocana, the Buddha of All Pervading Light.

The statue is highly regarded in the history of Korean Buddhist art not just because it provides important information on the genealogy of Vairocana Buddha images in Korea with its date of production clearly known; it is also the earliest existing item of iron cast Buddhist statues that enjoyed great popularity in Korea during the period between the late Unified Silla and early Goryeo.